The 2019 SEO Services Report

We surveyed 1,200 business owners to better understand the current state of the SEO services industry.

In this new report you’ll learn:

  • How much people spend on SEO.
  • Where people find SEO services.
  • Why people choose one agency over another.
  • Why people decide to leave their current SEO provider.
  • Lots more.

Without further ado, let’s get into our findings.

Highlights and Key Statistics:

1. American small businesses spend an average of $497.16 per month on SEO services.

2. We found a strong correlation between higher spending and higher client satisfaction. In fact, clients that spent over $500/month were 53.3% more likely to be “extremely satisfied” compared to those that spent less than $500/month.

3. Most small business owners find SEO providers through referrals, Google searches and online reviews. A small fraction of SEO clients (8%) found their current provider from online advertising.

4. When it comes to choosing a provider, 74% of business owners consider an SEO provider’s reputation “very” or “extremely” important. Monthly cost and the provider’s own Google rankings were also noted as important factors.

5. On the other hand, an agency’s presence on social media and client case studies were seen as relatively unimportant factors in deciding who to work with.

6. Most small business owners expect SEO agencies to help them drive immediate growth to their customer base and bottom line. Specifically, 83% of our respondents stated that SEO providers should be able to help them “access new customers”.

7. However, most small business owners don’t seem to value a provider’s ability to grow a social media following. In fact, only 26% of respondents cited “getting followers on social media sites” as extremely important.

8. Overall SEO client satisfaction is decidedly low. Only 30% would recommend their current SEO provider to a friend or colleague. However, we found that client satisfaction among marketing agencies was higher than freelancers.

9. Not surprisingly, clients are highly satisfied with SEO providers that help them get more traffic and customers. Also, 61% of business owners cite that “increasing brand awareness” is important to them.

10. An SEO provider’s location also seems to play a key role in whether or not a client chooses to work with or stay with an SEO agency. 78% of US-based small business owners consider their provider’s location a “very” or “extremely” important consideration.

11. 44% of small business owners leave their current SEO provider largely due to “Dissatisfaction with business results”. 34% cite “customer service/ responsiveness” as a key reason they left. Only 21% leave because they were pitched by a competitor.

12. SEO provider turnover is high. 65% of our panel stated that they’ve worked with several different SEO providers. 25% have worked with 3 or more providers.

We have more detailed and expanded findings on our results below.

Average Monthly SEO Spend is <$500 Per Month

On average, small businesses spend $497.16 per month on SEO services.

The average cost of SEO services is less than $500/month

However, we did discover a large range in SEO spending. Half of our respondents reported that they spend less than $1,000 per year on SEO. 14% spend $5k+ per year. Only 2% spend over $25k/year.

Small business SEO spending varies greatly

We also found that agencies tend to get paid significantly more than freelance SEO providers.

Specifically, agencies were 2x more likely to get paid $1k-$2k/month than freelancers, which mostly get paid in the $500-$1k per month range.

SEO agencies get paid significantly more than SEO freelancers

Agencies also tend to dominate the high-end pricing range (clients that spend $10k-$25k/year on SEO).

Agencies are 8X more likely to get paid $10k-$25k/year than freelancers

As you can see, 24% of small businesses that work with agencies spend between $10k-$25k/year, compared with 2% that work with a freelance SEO.

Key Takeaway: The average small business owner spends $497.16 per month on SEO services. Also, small business owners spend considerably more with SEO agencies than freelance SEO providers.

Monthly Spend Is Tied To Client Satisfaction

When it comes to SEO, do you “get what you pay for”?

According to our data, yes.

Specifically, we discovered that clients spending over $500/month were 53.3% more likely to consider themselves “extremely satisfied” compared to people that spend less than $500/month.

Higher SEO spending is correlated with higher client satisfaction

We also found a clear relationship between dissatisfaction levels and cost.

Specifically, business owners that spent less than $500/month were 75% more likely to be dissatisfied than those that invested at least $500/month on SEO.

SEO dissatisfaction is correlated with lower SEO spending

This relationship played out whether a client worked with a freelancer, agency, or a mix of both.

Key Takeaway: Small business owners that spend more than $500/month are significantly happier with their SEO provider than those that spend less than $500/month.

Referrals and Google Searches Are the Top Ways Businesses Are Finding SEOs

When someone wants to hire an SEO agency, where do they look?

According to our panel, most people find potential SEO service providers through word of mouth, Google searches and online review platforms (like Yelp).

Most clients find SEO services via referrals, Google search and review sites

On the other hand, relatively few find SEO providers through online or offline advertising, or referrals from other vendors (like web designers or writers).

If you’re an agency owner or a freelancer, this is a key finding. If you know where small business owners look to find SEO service providers, you can invest resources to make sure your business has a presence in those places.

Key Takeaway: 28% of small business owners find SEO services through word of mouth, 26% use Google and 18% use online review platforms like Yelp. Only 11% find SEO providers via online or offline advertising.

Reputation and Cost are Key Factors Involved In Choosing a Provider

Once someone finds a list of potential providers, how do they decide which one to go with?

We discovered that reputation, cost and a provider’s own Google rankings influenced their decision the most.

Reputation and cost are key factors involved in choosing a provider

Small business owners cited client case studies and the provider’s social media presence as significantly less important.

However, even these relatively minor factors played a role in whether or not someone decided to work with a particular SEO provider. For example, 55% of our panel cited “referrals” as an important consideration.

Referrals influence more than 50% choosing a provider

Although the importance of referrals pales in comparison to a provider’s reputation (55% vs. 74%), it’s still something that influenced more than half of the people we spoke to.

Interestingly, we found that a provider’s location mattered quite a bit.

Only 51% knew exactly where their SEO provider was located.

Half of SEO clients don't know where their SEO provider is located

However, 78% of US-based small businesses stated that knowing their provider’s location was “extremely” or “very” important (with 46% stating that a known location was “extremely important”).

78% of small business owners state SEO provider's location as 'Important'

If you provide SEO services, making your location clear and obvious may help you land more SEO clients.

Here’s a great example from Siege Media, who actually includes a picture of their office on their about page:

SiegeMedia – Make location clear

Key Takeaway: Small business owners largely decide on an SEO provider based on their online reputation. Location also seems to play a role. 78% our panel noted that location was a factor that helped them decide whether or not to work with an agency or freelancer.

The Vast Majority of Business Owners Expect SEO Services To Increase Customers and Traffic

We asked our panel about their expectations. Specifically, we asked them which benefits from working with an SEO provider were most important to them.

They stated that “accessing new customers”, “increasing traffic”, “increasing brand awareness” and “building trust” as most important.

SEO clients value new customers, traffic and brand awareness

“Gaining social media followers”, “increasing number of email subscribers” and “helping to attract new talent” were cited as relatively unimportant.

In fact, even though this is a common goal set by marketing agencies, only 26% of respondents cited “getting followers on social media sites” as extremely important.

Only 26% state getting followers on social media sites as extremely important

This finding is especially key for SEO providers that are taking on new clients.

For example, a newly-hired SEO provider that says: “Our first step is going to be to get more likes on your Facebook page” isn’t speaking their client’s language.

On the other hand, kicking off the client-provider relationship with: “I look forward to helping you get more targeted traffic and customers” will likely result in a more satisfied client.

Needless to say, for the relationship to last, you need to deliver on those promises (more on that later). But it does help to understand what clients hope to get out of SEO so you can mold your services and reports based on that.

Key Takeaway: SEO clients value an SEO provider’s ability to land them new clients, increase traffic and build brand awareness. However, only 26% of SEO clients want their providers to help them increase their social media following.

Overall Satisfaction With SEO Services Is Low

We asked out panelists to rate their current SEO provider (or the last SEO provider they worked with) using the Net Promoter Score.

The results were markedly low.

First off, we found that only 30% of small business owners would recommend their current SEO provider.

Only 30% of small business owners would recommend their current SEO provider

Importantly, 30% of our respondents considered themselves “detractors”. Which means they would leave a negative review for their last or current SEO provider.

In fact, the SEO services industry as a whole has an NPS score of 0, which is considered “not likely to recommend”.

The SEO services industry has an NPS score of 0

When we broke down the NPS scores among agencies, freelancers, and a combination of freelancer and agency, we discovered that agencies had a higher average NPS score than freelancers.

Agencies had a higher average NPS score than freelancers

However, all three types of services had fairly low NPS scores.

Key Takeaway: Only 30% of clients would recommend their SEO service provider.

Clients Cite Lack of Education and Resources as Top Reasons for Low Satisfaction Levels

NPS is a helpful benchmark. However, NPS can only tell you so much. In other words, it’s difficult to understand why SEO services have such low levels of satisfaction.

That’s why we decided to dig deeper into this finding.

And when we dug a bit deeper to understand more about what’s happening, we uncovered a few surprising insights.

First, many unhappy SEO clients fully or partially blamed themselves.

Specifically, 50% stated that “I feel like I need more training to fully benefit from what SEO offers“ and 28% told us that they “do not have the staff resources to properly benefit from SEO”.

Many unhappy SEO clients cite 'training' and 'lack of resources' as reasons for leaving an SEO provider

This means that low satisfaction levels aren’t solely due to poor quality work. In fact, many clients are simply not in a position to benefit from SEO due to a lack of resources.

Plus, even clients with resources may not make SEO a priority because they don’t have the training to fully understand how SEO benefits them.

For example, let’s say an SEO provider wants to change a title tag on a client’s site. But it doesn’t happen because their developer is swamped with a website redesign. Also, this client may not understand that this simple change can increase their Google traffic due to a lack of training. So they don’t make that change a priority. And progress stalls.

Which leads us to our second interesting finding, the importance of reporting and transparency.

27% of the clients we spoke with agreed with the statement: “I find SEO to be confusing and unclear about what services they offer” 25% said that “I am not sure what I am really paying for with SEO.”

Many clients are unclear on how SEO benefits them

In other words, many clients are confused about what their provider is doing for them or what they’re getting out of the arrangement.

These are two points that could be remedied with better reporting and increased transparency.

I should point out that a fair number of clients stated that “I feel like SEO companies are very unreliable” and “I don’t think SEO is worth the money for my business.”

A small but significant percentage of small businesses consider SEO companies unreliable

Which means that a simple lack of results and ROI is often the culprit behind low client satisfaction levels.

However, as you just saw, there are usually non-performance based factors at play as well.

Key Takeaway: Low SEO service satisfaction is largely due to three main factors: 1. Lack of client education, 2. Lack of available resources and 3. Poor understanding of how SEO is helping them.

Turnover In the SEO Services Industry Is Extremely High

Likely due to low global satisfaction levels, we found high levels of turnover in the SEO services industry.

Specifically, we found that 65% of small business owners have worked with at least one SEO provider before:

65% of small businesses have worked with multiple SEO providers

We also found that 1/4th of our panel have worked with 3 or more providers:

25% of small business owners have worked with 3+ SEO providers

However, our data suggests that most clients don’t switch between SEO providers without careful consideration.

In fact, the clients in our panel have been working with their current SEO service for an average of 3 years. And lapsed clients give their service provider an average of 2 years to deliver before moving on.

Both existing clients and lapsed clients stay with SEO providers for 2+ years before switching

That said, we did discover a small subset of clients that do rapidly switch between different providers.

These “rapid switchers” tend to hire and fire SEO companies at a fever pitch.

For example, we classified 10% of our panelists as “rapid switchers” (worked with 3 or more SEO providers over the last year).

10% of people have worked with 3+ SEO providers over the last year

Key Takeaway: 65% of SEO clients have used two or more SEO services in the past. 25% have worked with 3+ providers.

Most SEO Clients Leave Due to Lack of Results and Cost

We wanted to know why people decide to leave their current SEO provider or switch to another company.

We referred to folks that worked with multiple SEO providers as “lapsed clients”. And we asked this subset of lapsed users what went into their decision.

Here were the results:

Reasons that people switch from current SEO provider

Not surprisingly, 82% of our respondents cited “Dissatisfaction with business results” as a factor in their decision. 81% reported that cost played a large role as well.

This suggests that clients don’t look at results in a vacuum. They also pay attention to the ROI that they’re getting from SEO. In other words, delivering results for clients is one thing. But it’s also important to demonstrate the ROI that SEO is having on their business. Otherwise, they may leave.

Although lack of results and cost were the two largest factors, they weren’t the only reasons that clients decide to stop working with an SEO provider.

In fact, 80% of lapsed clients stated that they found a better option on their own, which suggests that clients are happy to shop around for an alternative to their current SEO provider.

80% of lapsed clients say they 'Heard about a better option'

And 34% cited poor “customer service/ responsiveness” as a factor in their decision.

However, relatively few clients cited “pitched by a competitor” as a reason for leaving. In other words, as long as you can keep your clients happy, they’re not likely to leave. This remains true even if a competitor attempts to poach your client with a better offer.

We also asked our “lapsed clients” panelists to describe to us why they decided to stop using an SEO service. Here’s a sample of those responses:

Quotes from clients that stopped using an SEO service

We also asked a group of users that were happy with their SEO service (“existing clients”) what they liked about it. Here’s what they told us:

Quotes from clients that are happy with their SEO service

Key Takeaway: Most clients stop using an SEO service due to lack of results, cost and finding an alternative on their own.

Existing Clients are 2x More Likely to Be Web Savvy Than Lapsed Clients

We asked our panel to self-report their level of “web savviness”.

Here were the results:

Self-reported web savviness among SEO clients

As you can see, 37% of SEO clients consider their web savviness as “somewhat” or “not very”.

The upshot here is that many clients simply don’t have the web savviness to understand key digital marketing terms, like “title tags”, “CSS” and “backlinks”. Which suggests that SEO companies should largely avoid this sort of jargon in favor of terms like “leads”, “sales” and “first page Google rankings”.

In fact, this is backed up by another finding from our panel: that lapsed clients are significantly more likely to consider themselves not web savvy.

Specifically, we found that existing clients were 2x more likely to consider themselves “extremely web savvy” than lapsed clients.

Existing clients are 2X more likely to consider themselves 'Extremely web savvy'

This suggests that web savvy users are in a better position to understand how their SEO service is helping them. So they decide to stay. On the other hand, clients who aren’t web savvy may not fully understand what they’re getting from their SEO provider. So they decide to leave.

Key Takeaway: Clients that stick with their current SEO provider are 2x more likely to be “extremely web savvy” compared to those that leave or switch.

Conclusion

I hope this survey helped you get a better feel for the SEO services industry in 2019.

I’d like to thank Northstar Research Partners for helping me design and conduct this survey.

And if you’d like to learn more about how this survey was conducted, here’s a PDF of our study methods.

And now I’d like to hear from you:

What’s your main takeaway lesson from today’s survey?

Or maybe you have a question about something you read.

Either way, go ahead and leave a comment below with your thoughts.

252 Comments

  1. Hi Brian,

    I love the depth and coverage of your posts!
    I have a question. Why do clients prefer SEOs with high rating/reviews over customer case studies?(which is a more solid proof about their work). Shouldn’t it have been the other way round.

    1. Thank you. Good question there. I think it’s because ratings and reviews are more objective than case studies.

    2. It is because you are dealing with small businesses, not big companies. The relationship you have with the business owner is almost just as important as the results you get for them. Small business owners will take comfort knowing that you have had successful working relationships with other small businesses. It is no surprise that agencies have a higher average NPS score as they likely invest more in that area.

      HINT FOR FREELANCERS: Develop your people skills

      1. This.

        However, freelancers also need to develop their actual SEO skills:

        “12. SEO provider turnover is high. 65% of our panel stated that they’ve worked with several different SEO providers. 25% have worked with 3 or more providers.”

        If the results were there, then the retention would be, too. The fact is, so many people now claim to be SEO experts, yet very few can actually deliver the goods.

  2. Good post, I think there are a lot of companies that jump ship based on their own mindset thinking the can get better results going somewhere else even if they are getting amazing results. This is based on a phone call they get from a competitor telling them BS lies. There are two types of companies in the SEO industry; the honest hardworking ones that deliver results and the liars talking trash about what you are doing. I’ve also found that there will always be churn and when you take on a new client that is complaining about their current company most of the time they will complain about everyone.

    1. Thanks Dean. Interestingly, we found that a relatively small number of clients switched because they were approached by a competing service. I think it may be that having a client poached is super memorable, so it stands out more. Do this day I still remember my clients telling me about so-and-so calling them and pitching their SEO services.

      But at least according to this panel, most clients leave because they’re simply not happy with the results they’re getting.

      1. The companies who contact me as they shop around for a new SEO vendor always cite cost, and often transparency. Rarely do they know if there’s a plan or strategy, so no real way to measure performance. As your survey shows, companies also struggle to implement changes; I think the higher level of satisfaction for budgets >$500 and for using full agencies are related.

  3. Great post Brian!

    Would be very interesting to compare these findings with businesses in other countries. Especially statistics such as 78% of U.S businesses cite the provider’s location as an important consideration. I wonder if this would be as high in a smaller country such as England.

    1. Thanks Guy. Good question there. I’d be curious to see that as well. Something to consider for the 2020 report!

      1. I would much rather have help I could talk to and learn from that the typically faceless service offered by the trainees to small companies, yet I operate businesses which rarely meet clients making important decisions (in the UK!)

    2. I agree.

      According to SimilarWeb, 5.67% of this site’s traffic comes from the UK (vs 20.26% from the US), so a report on the UK market would be incredibly valuable to a lot of us UK-based Backlinko readers!

  4. Hey Brian,

    What a detailed report. Most SEO companies offers are expensive. A guest post on a quality domain will be above $400, link building by outreach is also expensive, sek audits on their own also come with their own price packages.

    I guess what am trying to sayvis that to see results fast, one will actually have to spend way more than $2000 per month, or have their own seo department in-house (additional expense)

  5. This really shows that it’s best to go with someone who is super knowledgeable & informative and has does/looked at tons of case studies. Great post to learn from. Thanks again Brian!

  6. HI Brian ! beautiful post. Here in Europe and in particular in Italy the figures are slightly lower, we say that for 500 euros a month it is necessary to follow the client also on google ads in small companies with single site

  7. Brian, thank you. We’re getting ready to launch a reboot as an Agency – particularly with our website, digital offering, etc. Focusing more on local SEO and reputation management. Your research gives us great insight into what matters most. We appreciate you, Brian, keep up the fine work sir.

  8. Awesome info! Really surprised how big of an impact an SEO provider’s location has on whether or not a client chooses to work with them. That’s not something I’ve ever really considered. The data surrounding a client’s web savviness is also really intriguing. That makes me think we need to place more importance on educating our clients on the work that we do for them – more education and less reporting. Really appreciate the work you guys put into this and your willingness to share! Will definitely be linking to this content over on our site at Kite Media.

    1. Hi Garrett, thank you. I 100% agree: the data on web savviness was something I hadn’t put much thought into. But it does make sense: if a client doesn’t understand what they’re getting, they’re not going to be happy. Especially with something like SEO that’s not always intuitive (for example, they may not understand the value of links, keywords… even rankings).

      1. Yes, for sure. Thanks so much for compiling this. Will definitely become something we reference as we continue to make changes and improvements to how we structure our team and the work we do.

      2. Hi Brian,
        could not agree more with web savviness correlation and people may not understand what they are getting. Yet, I wonder why those companies seemingly not understanding anything about SEO would spend money on that subject at all? In our organization, each spending has to be approved based on value and or business case for our organization. Simply stating “we need SEO because everyone else is doing it” would not release any funds at all…

        1. Hi Suzan, good point there. I think that many clients understand the idea that ranking higher in Google for a specific keyword will bring in more customers. But they may not understand all the stuff that goes into getting higher rankings (content, links, title tags etc.). I think that’s where the disconnect is.

  9. Hi Brian,

    I almost fell off my chair when I read the stat that 70% of customers would not recommend their SEO provider!!

    Thanks for compiling this really useful set of data.

    Josh

    1. Thanks Josh. I was surprised to. But then, when I thought about all the bad experiences people have with providers, it made sense. Either way, it’s a great opportunity for legit agencies to stand out!

      1. In our experience this high % is due to the overall lack of transparency amongst agencies and freelancers with their clients. Too often agencies are more worried about there bottom line than being transparent with the client. It creates a ‘churn n burn’ environment at least here in the UK it does!

        The language used can also play a big part in this. When you hear SEO/backlinks etc its got such a bad rep that its an instant put off. But as you said Brian, using words like leads and sales as replacements definitely helps.

  10. Great stuff, Brian. This survey helps us align our marketing efforts towards search and word of mouth instead of anything other outreach methods. Also, I think that if you provide value, clients will stick longer.

    BTW, what’s the average monthly fee AGENCIES charge according to your survey? Is it somewhere in the 1K-2K range?

    1. Thanks Arjun. I’d have to crunch the numbers on that subset. But with the data we analyzed, we found that agencies tend to get paid significantly more than freelancers.

  11. Hey Brian,
    Most SEO and Digital Marketing Agencies give guaranty that they can rank our keywords or business top on Google but there is no guarantee in SEO. So I have a question that how they suppose that they can rank our business #1 on Google.

    1. Hi Jarvis, do you think that most marketing agencies guarantee rankings? Some do for sure. But I feel that most try to give clients realistic expectations.

  12. Great post as usual, Brian. I was surprised that over a quarter of respondents said getting social media followers was very or extremely important to them… from an SEO service provider. I wonder how much of that is confusion about what SEO is on the part of the clients vs how often agencies/freelancers offer both SEO and social media together. (Probably more the latter.)

    It also stood out to me that 30% of business owners said they would recommend their SEO provider to a friend or colleague. On the one hand, that is astonishingly low — 70% would not!

    On the other hand, if you run an agency you should clearly be regularly asking your clients for referrals. Even if “only” 30% of them actually provide them, that could have a profound impact on your business (especially considering your other statistic about referrals being the #1 lead/client source).

    1. Thanks Kyle. I think you hit the nail on the head: in my experience many agencies bundle SEO, content… even web design… into their packages. In fact, most small business owners just want someone to take marketing off of their hands. And that includes social media.

      Also, yeah: referrals are super underrated! If you have a good relationship with your client, you really have nothing to lose by asking.

  13. Great Article! We noticed a while ago that costs and location are keys when people choose a SEO provider. However we didn’t conduct a survey as good as yours:) Thank you for the thorough insights! I guess that it took you a few months to gather all these informations together 🙂
    We are a Web & SEO agency montreal based and indeed, many of our clients visit us because they are disappointed with other agencies services. Some agencies tend to promise the moon but deliver poor results (or just have no idea what they are doing in Marketing) .
    Did you notice that some clients are more concerned about social media reputation than to be found on Google?
    Have a great day!

    1. Hi Sarah, thank you. Our data is similar to what you found: most clients hop around to different agencies before finding a good one. We actually found that most clients weren’t super interested in social media as a whole (although, to be fair, we didn’t look specifically at reputation). In fact, the vast majority of the clients in our panel weren’t super interested in the approach. They just wanted more leads and customers.

  14. Awesome insights…Surprising to see brands want more traffic and brand awareness otherwise they are always after leads…Thanks again Brian

  15. I find it very validating and scary that the turnover rate so high for SEO services, I feel our company is pretty good at retaining customers, but what I learned from this is to set clear and defined expectations from the beginning of SEO services. Also, starting a word of mouth campaign sounds like a worthy investment. Thanks for the priceless information Brian!

    1. Hi Dillon, happy to help. If you’re surprised by that finding it probably means that you keep clients really happy!

  16. These are great insights! I’ve forwarded this to my sales department and will be using some of these in my own communications with clients. I think it’s very interesting that “Only 30% would recommend their current SEO provider to a friend or colleague” however most companies find their SEO service through referrals. Tells you how very important it is to make sure your clients are happy, have proper expectations and are educated about the SEO process.

    1. Hi Laura, thank you. You’re the second person to mention referrals already today. Such an underrated way to get clients!

  17. Excellent post Brian! Thank you for sharing this helpful and important information. This is an extremely interesting study.
    Btw – I just listened to your interview on the Ignite Visibility podcast. Awesome job! It was great to hear you go into the detail and the value of creating a study just like this post.
    Thank you for all of your support for entrepreneurs. Your advice is priceless!!

  18. I totally get how people are more satisfied when they pay more for SEO.

    A $500 package is really basic and you can only do so much with it as an seo.

    What’s surprising to me is that most people find seos thru referrals and not online!

  19. Great post Brain! Some good takeaways from this. I don’t know how anybody is able to do decent SEO in 2019 with 500$. No wonder these business are disappointed. Like with most things in life, you get what you pay for.

    1. Daniel, if my people were paying me $500 a month, I would turn them to solid gold. I think a solo operator could help a decent enough amount of people at this rate to both provide good results, and earn a decent income.

      1. Dan K, if you don’t mind sharing, I’m seriously curious what can you achieve with 500$ and how much is left for you after doing meaningful work for the client. We are trying to be a profitable business, right?

        1. I have lots of people on my white label seo plan which cost $500/mo. Now, technically, my white label partners charge $699/mo for the same plan but I’m doing it for $500/mo profitably and we can typically get results in 6-12 months with this plan. So it is possible.

        2. +1. Dan K – I’d be curious what some of your go-to strategies would be with a $500 budget while still making it worth both your and your client’s time? You sound confident.

    2. 100% Agree . 500$ is very low price for good SEO. The normal price of SEO is around 1500$ to 2000$.

  20. I think so, now the individual approach to the client is still important. Template companies do not fully provide sales growth, do not delve into the essence of the company’s activities, and take little time to promote a website or blog …

    1. Exactly. That’s why clients that spend more tend to be more satisfied. The agencies have more resources to actually help.

  21. Interesting study. This study seems to have surveyed companies at a lower price point than our target client, so certain parts aren’t applicable to our service offerings, however, it is still interesting nevertheless.

    It is also satisfying to see that we outperform the average SEO company shown in this report!

    In addition to the reason cited, it is also that clients have a lack of time to invest in the SEO from their side, in addition to a lack of understanding as to the metrics for success. Our best clients are those that have clear objectives, aims and goals. This allows us to align said objectives to a clearly defined strategy for the next 12 to 24 months. We use comprehensive onboarding procedures to gather the required data and help the client to understand that in order to succeed in SEO they must also invest in other areas of their business such as brand, USPs, service offering, processes, resource, assets, website etc.

    1. Hi Aaron, excellent comment. And it matches my experience from when I ran an agency myself. I found that clients that “got it” tended to work out better than those that asked me to “SEO my site”. And it’s cool to see that you’re helping educate clients so they go from “SEO my site” to a partner in the site’s success in Google.

  22. A brilliant and very informative post, Brian and the team, as always.

    As an agency that provides both web design and SEO services ALL of my customers came to me initially for web design and I upsold them to SEO.

    I wonder how many of your survey participants are in the same boat?

    1. Hi Robert, thank you. We actually didn’t look into the web design approach. Although, as you said, many SEO clients tend to start off as web design development clients. That would be something cool to check out for the 2020 report.

  23. **Commenting just based on initial summary of findings**, this is bang on with how I feel based on dealing with local companies. I wasn’t expecting that. Less and less people are concerned with social, and that’s good, because it’s such a farce to begin with… And secondly, location is absolutely huge. Being able to help someone out with SEO, and being from the same local region (not just country), is an absolute advantage.
    Thanks Brian for using research to confirm what I’d been both SEEING and HOPING FOR…. You da man.

    1. Hey Dan, agreed on all counts. Technically, being the internet, you can find providers from anywhere. But it is nice to have an agency close by that understands the unique needs of the local area you serve.

      1. For sure you can hire ANYWHERE, but in the great red ocean, sometimes the local fish just tastes better… (That’s a double metaphor for us this afternoon… Red Ocean strategy… And, ummm eating fish!)

  24. Great post as usual Brian. With regards to “reviews”… I am curious if there were any specific factors that influenced their decisions. Meaning, was it # of reviews… review scores… or the comments from the reviews.?

    Also, you mentioned Yelp… but were Google & FB as important in the “reviews” or was it really Yelp that had the most influence?

    1. Hi Adam, thank you!

      We didn’t get super granular with reviews (in terms of what people looked for in the reviews). We also didn’t look at which platforms clients considered most important (I just mentioned Yelp because it’s one review site that people use to find providers). Both would be great things to look deeper into in the 2020 report!

  25. My experience running the website and the YT Channel of an international law firm is that it’s impossible to make serious SEO with USD 500 per month only. You have to invest at least a couple of thousand dollars per month to achieve results. SEO is too complex and needs much time for education. The owner can’t estimate the benefit if he has no SEO education. The client has to invest in his own SEO knowledge.

  26. Brian, really awesome SEO survey!! Great points. One point I think it would be great to know more about is the frequency of communications with clients. Hopefully next one you can include about that.

  27. Brian

    Thanks for another fantastic post.

    I thoroughly agree with almost all points and my experience as an agency owner matches up.

    I am curious however how you selected the participants for the study? Could you possibly give us more in-depth info on the businesses who responded?

    Thanks!

  28. We’ve stopped taking clients that won’t agree on a budget.

    We used to just be like “hey, we can do X amount, but your competitors seem to be doing Y amount of marketing. We suggest much closer to Y. Otherwise we can’t guarantee ideal results.”

    Lone behold they are so surprised when they’re traffic is climbing at a snails pace. Plus I feel like we lose money on these clients. Our $10,000+ clients aren’t calling us everyday, and we have a professional communication channel. With the lower budget clients they tend to call me every other day.

    I understand with limited budget, the client has more time to hassle. It’s just not the type of marketing I enjoy doing. Feels like more customers service than marketing at that point.

    Great stuff Brian!

    1. Hey Ryan, that’s an interesting approach. But it does make sense (especially if you’re an established agency like yours that can land high-end clients).

  29. But I think the budget depends on their business categories.
    Such as a landscaper v’s a cleaner. A Landscaper earns an average of $6k per job and the cleaner earn an average $150 to $200 per job. Think about it, if an SEO expert brings 10 clients per months then why not a landscaper pay $3k/m for the SEO?

  30. Absolutely a very nice article completely out of the box I can say, till now we read only about traffic, backlinks, seo, on page bla bla. I think this is all for our ownself, i.e for every SEOs.

    From this personally I feel getting results and then maintaining the are key takeaway and I could also see that we should by and large avoid low paying clients as they are more like to expect quick results which in turn gets negative results.

    Overall It was nice post Brain, I liked it and I hope probably I am first to read and comment lolo 🙂

  31. Hi Brian,

    Thank you very much for this post. We are learning a lot from you and your website, it is so inspiring!!!

    Best regards from Iceland

  32. Thank you soooooo much for this great breakdown Brian. I have been trying to figure out how to word my location to potential customers in different locations all week before I start cold/emailing calling. Now I am getting ready to change my copy on my website…This helped a lot.

  33. Nice survey. Maybe next time you ask them – How long is take until they are break even? Spending on SEO = Net income from new clients acquired clients
    by that SEO service.
    And from your experience, how long is take to that happen with good SEO agency.

    1. Thanks Dragan. It’s really hard to say because it depends a lot on the business. For example, an SEO agency can drive lots of traffic to a website. But if it’s not optimized for conversions, the ROI won’t be there. And it’s not necessarily the agency’s fault.

  34. Brian,

    Did you get the sense that some or many clients were lumping PPC in with SEO? The references to “immediate results” and “see us on many platforms and ads” seem to indicate that this may be the case. I’d be curious to learn if, and to what extent, clients lump all SEM under the SEO label. Thanks for some great research!

    1. Hi John, really good question there. We really tried to emphasize SEO services. But you’re right: there may have been some clients who also wanted PPC or had PPC-like expectations from SEO.

  35. Man you Just do a bad reputation for the seo experts…
    Why?
    People’s gonna search seo service on google and they found your post and they will understand seo cost is $500,
    They may never gonna pay us more then $500
    Please dont make this post viral, better change the keyword and make the post just for a Survey not service.
    Hope you will understand
    Thanks

  36. Great article, Bryan!
    There are many takeaways for me, however the most enlightening was the need for.client education. It makes perfect sense. If the client isn’t aware of the difficulties in upping their SEO, the greater the chance of them becoming dissatisfied with the service!
    Thanks for another engaging post!

    1. Hi Karen, that was a big takeaway from me too. The interesting thing was that most clients agreed! They literally told us that they just didn’t get it or know how to contribute.

  37. Hi Brian, This is both an insightful and useful post. Much appreciate the effort in carrying out such a detailed survey. Thanks as always. For me, it reinforces the important of SEO in terms of SERP ranking and the emphasis/importance companies place in it. My main takeaway from this is that clients don’t rate growth on social media as important. This poses questions. Has social media’s role in business been blown out of proportion? Is this the beginning of the end for Instagram influencers? To be continued in another post perhaps?

    1. Hi Hazel, you’re welcome. That finding struck me as well. I think that there’s a place for social media. But as you pointed out, it was overhyped for a long time and most small business owners have caught on.

  38. I agree with jon d comment, the most clients expect PPC results in SEO. Maybe they lack that information or awareness about Difference in PPC and SEO. In the end for them only matters is results. But as a service provider have to understand their needs and have to make them understand whether they need PPC campaign with such small amount or better SEO with some good fees, because efforts and time investment is more

    1. Hi Reena, that’s my take as well: many clients don’t understand the differences between PPC and SEO. And you’re right: it’s ultimately on the service provider to explain that difference (and the value the service provides) to each client.

  39. Thanks Brian to post such important statistics about SEO services.

    My question is that why those clients not satisfied that pay less than $500 per month?

    Do they expect a high percentage of growth in their business by doing SEO or SEO companies unable to give good result in less than $500 per month?

  40. Great post, Brian! Lot of takeaways for me.

    Can you tell me what comes under “SEO services” if you charge $500 or $1000.

    As per my knowledge, I found some agency charge separately for Link building which I think is a essential part of SEO. So what the agency people do in the SEO services.

    And the second essential part is content (most probably if you are trying to increase blog traffic or using it for link purpose ), so do SEO services charge extra $$ per article?

    1. Thank you. It depends a lot on the provider. For some, it includes link building, content, keyword research… the works. For others, it’s more of like monthly SEO maintenance.

  41. Well put: some clients will walk away if they don’t understand how SEO works. Most business owners know SEO is vital to their online presence but they just don’t understand it. It’s important for SEO agencies to educate their clients.

    A client will stick around if he or she knows the effort, time, and money it will take to beat their competition before customers can start flowing in from search engines.

    As a writer, I have met all types of clients. Quite a large number of them are always demanding for a keyword stuffed blog post after learning about keywords, user intend, and some onpage SEO from weak SEO wannabe websites and inexperienced friends.

    Please people, keep in mind that Google now counts ‘how long a visitor sticks around on a website’ as a ranking factor!

    A good post needs a keyword strategy that is rigid enough to please Google and your visitors as well.

    The very same visitors that you want to convert into paying customers are slowly becoming immune to the keyword stuffing bullshit and they will quickly hit back if they can’t see value in your Content.

    Remember, the shorter the time a visitor spends on your website, the more it will hurt your rankings and your CTR.

    Thanks Brian for the time and effort you put into creating this masterpiece. Please agencies, educate your clients. It will be a lot easier to deliver content.

  42. Hi Brian, thank you as always for the helpful and delightfully visual results.

    I’m glad to get extra validation that client education efforts are worth the effort. A few hours worth of training can get SEO providers days or even weeks back in productivity – plus it actually seems to improve client retention.

    All in all, solid data. Thanks again!

    1. Hi Abby, thank you! Good to hear that your experience aligns with our data. It looks like client education is can make a huge difference in the relationship.

  43. I appreciated the stat(s) on how agencies are twice as likely to win $1-2k clients than freelancers. This was something I felt to be true but could never quite find the data to support it. Last August I wanted to test this theory, so I started marketing myself as an agency (rather than a freelancer) and it certainly had a significant effect on contract size as well as client respect. Although I still have a few clients leftover from my “freelancer” days who still try to treat (and pay) me like an intern, pivoting to an agency was the smartest move I’ve ever made.

    1. Hi Brian, that’s a SUPER interesting example of this finding playing out in the real world. Thanks for sharing!

  44. As always, Backlinko and Brian Dean always provide information from within the SEO sector, as current and as easy as possible to understand. I actually found 40% of this to be rather common sense and another 20% educated guess but the last 40% was completely new, unthought about genuine and great SEO education I to the 2019 SEO client/provider relationship. There are so many facts here that you can optimize instantly for your current client base and for new prospects as well. I did however feel there were a few points that should have gone a little deeper as the investigation into some points seemed to drop off abruptly.
    Overall, Brian Dean and Backlinko have hit this out of the park even more so than the 2018 rendition. You do amazing work Brian and I always strive to keep your level of service as my own standard within my business. Keep up the amazing work and I can’t wait for 2020, this will be a very interesting year by my prediction.

    1. Hi Jair, thank you. I’m glad you learned some new stuff from today’s report and I appreciate the kind words.

  45. Informative study, being SEO-side it’s interesting insight.

    Quick typo on the “small but significant percentage” visual – just wanted to help out 🙂

  46. Brian, did you happen to confirm that the clients knew the difference between SEO and Google Ads? I’ve found that several small business folks I’ve talked to (especially in rural areas) get them confused.

    1. Hi Skyler, we actually didn’t. But you’re right: that may have been a cause of confusion. That’s something I want to address in the 2020 report.

  47. Brian, I’ve been following you for quite a while. As always, your research is very thorough and you make it look so easy to put these landing pages together. The content is spot on and even better, the way you present it makes it easy to read. Well done and thank you for informing us.

  48. Great post, actually had me laughing at a couple spots, especially that higher satisfaction correlated with higher spend. That actually made me call over my partner and had a laugh on that one

    1. Hi Alexis, thank you. We might expand out to enterprise businesses in the next version oft his report.

  49. Amazing amount of information on this post. Thank you for your work in helping us understand the industry. I have been considering using a white label company as I plan to make the sale and educate the client.

    Do you have any feedback about this approach?

    1. Hi Ryan, I don’t have any personal experience with white labeling SEO services. There are lots of pros and cons of white label vs. doing the work in-house.

  50. Hi Brian,
    A good post as always.

    I find some contradictory points in below two points.

    “However, most small business owners don’t seem to value a provider’s ability to grow a social media following. In fact, only 26% of respondents cited “getting followers on social media sites” as extremely important.”

    “Also, 61% of business owners cite that “increasing brand awareness” is important to them.”

    If increasing brand awareness is important, social media should be a deciding factor.

    Social Media and SEO can do great things together. What do you think?

    1. Thanks Tharindu. That’s a really good point. As pro marketers, we can see that connection. But it looks like small business owners may not see the branding potential in social media.

  51. Thanks Brian for the findings. It’s true that referral business is powerful, and that’s provided you really go for extra mile for the client. Most importantly, SEO agency need to ask for referral. : ) Personally, I find a client has higher expectation from a SEO agency compared to a digital marketing agency that does social media or email marketing. Maybe because SEO ROI is subjective. High traffic does not guarantee business deals. SEO is a long game strategy, and you won’t see immediate results. My observation is that clients tend to change SEO agency every 2 years.

    1. Hi Cheefoo, you’re welcome. That’s a really good point there: I do think many clients see the value of ranking higher in Google for keywords that customers search for. Which means they expect something from those increased rankings (as opposed to growing a Facebook page which is harder to tie directly to sales).

  52. 35 per cent (400 companies) spend more than $1k. That’s a good number for high-value agencies to target.

    However, it’s disappointing to see that the average spend is $500.

    It’s super difficult to provide value with that price.

  53. Brain, Thanks for yet another great article.
    I think the SEO budget also depends on client location, for instance, a client in Pakistan won’t be able to pay as much as the client in the US or Australia so doing SEO for clients in countries such as Pakistan does have extra challenges because of a small budget.

    1. Hi Faran, very true. What’s considered a “normal” or “high” budget does depend a lot on the country.

  54. Whoa, Brian, that’s a long read, very detailed survey and it’s informative. I guess location based SEO agencies are going to benefit from it the most. Definitely coming back to read it completely.

    1. Thanks Steve. That’s right: location seems to be super important (more important than I would have guessed).

  55. Hello! Brian
    I love your research, data, and statistic. It helps me to know the insights of the industry and learnt a lot from you man. Big kudos to you.
    Keep sharing! Thanks!

  56. Amazing post and research as you always do brian. I really appreciate your findings. I’ll take that keynotes with me to help me investing in what is really worthy as an SEO service provider.

  57. Hi Brian!
    Hope you are doing well!
    You have given a good analysis though only one question which keeps coming in my mind is whether the data for this analysis is taken from a specific set of businesses or it covers a wide part of business industry.

    1. Hi Tushar, good question. We have a breakdown of the panelists in this survey in the conclusion section of the post. It’s a fairly diverse group of small businesses.

  58. Great post Brian!

    Would be very interesting to compare these findings with businesses who pay less than $500 per month on their SEO services. I think this post gives them a clear idea to spend more on good SEO services which leads then more clients!

  59. Hi Brian,

    JP from South Africa here. Fantastic post, tank you so much.

    I am assisting small businesses with getting some form of digital marketing in place as a freelancer. Internet penetration in SA stands at 54% of which the majority is on mobile devices. Here is my question: in SA where online marketing has not really gained traction yet, how would you convince a small business owner (who know little to nothing of the subject) that SEO is a viable option to reach new customers?

    Thanks again for your in-depth post! Love it!

    1. Hi JP, you’re welcome. I recommend speaking in terms that any business owner can understand (leads, sales etc.). According to our data, talking about keywords and title tags usually goes right over their heads.

  60. Thanks for your time to put up these. In my country here most business owners and even a handful of web designers don’t understand exactly what SEO is and its benefits. Most websites are designed without any consideration of SEO in mind.

    Indeed education is key in order for SEO to be appreciated ( For all Web designers, Digital marketer ,and business owner)

    1. Very true. That’s one of the big findings from this study: that client education can make the difference between a satisfied and unsatisfied client.

  61. Awesome post Brian, looks well researched. We have seen that bigger brand or companies always prefer agency rather than a freelancer. As they have achieved more success ration in compare to hiring freelancer. Great post indeed.

    1. Thanks Ken. Our data confirms what you’ve noticed. Whether fair or not, it does appear that people prefer (and are willing to pay more) for agencies.

  62. Hey Brian, an amazing piece of work! The report is really thorough & insightful. I have one question though. Does the industry of the customer have an effect on the above? Were you panelists a mix of different businesses too?

    1. Hi Rabab, thank you. We didn’t divide things up by industry. We have a link to a methods PDF in the conclusion that goes into detail about our panel.

  63. GREAT post Brian,

    Really helpful and especially loved the bit on “Clients Cite Lack of Education and Resources as Top Reasons for Low Satisfaction Levels” and NPS!

    Thanks very much,
    Richard

  64. Hello Brian

    I always appreciate your work. From your survey, I also confirm that most of the SEO clients have no knowledge of SEO fundamentals and that’s why they expect magic in a short time. Moreover, there are very few SEO experts who have real experience and knowledge of SEO.

    I am a Google certified SEO expert who has 7+ years of experience in SEO & digital marketing. By god grace and my hard work, I have happy SEO clients from all around the world.

    1. Hi Anand, yes, that’s true. As we found, it’s largely on the SEO provider to help clients understand SEO.

  65. Hi Brian Dean ,

    Really great post , SEO basically its a process and it is for long term . But few customers they expect first page, leads and calls from very 1st month onward . They don’t even believe that we can delivery but once they slowly start seing the results and understand the process and time taken, they never ask for results and look for other options . As an agency we need to keep post frequently the activity , results and future scope .
    I really appreciate your reply for each and every single post .

  66. Great data and insight here. I was intrigued by the notion that client organisations think SEO will help in “increasing brand awareness”. Search fulfils demand but doesn’t create it. Increasing levels of brand related navigational searches are surely a by-product of brand awareness raising elsewhere or through other channels eg paid. Expecting SEO alone to drive brand awareness isn’t going to deliver – and might explain why many people are disappointed – although it is also probably related to overall lack of understanding client side of where different channels sit in the mix and what role they play in driving awareness and ultimately customers and sales. Keep up the good work!

    1. Thanks Andrew. I agree: I think that’s a symptom of clients not fully understanding what SEO is (and does).

  67. I wonder if there’s a noticeable link between the amount of time a client uses an agency, and satisfaction? Does it vary over time, and how long it takes the average client before they decide to jump ship. I think it’d be interesting to see if a certain percentage of those dissatisfied with business results leave after a short amount of time? With it often taking time for the SEO domino effect to kick-in, you have to suspect in some cases the clients may not give it enough time for the results to come good, but they may have after a bit more time, and the client missed out as a result and yet is sadly probably oblivious to that and now thinks they wasted money.

    1. Great question there. We didn’t look into that. But like you said, it does take time for SEO to kick in. That said, we found that most clients are pretty patient and stick around for about 2 years before switching providers. So by then they should start to see some pretty significant results.

  68. As we all know that SEO is a long term process. Some Business Owners expect quick ROI and they are totally unfamiliar with the process of SEO. That could be the more irritating thing for SEO professionals. And I think that’s the reason different companies keep changing SEO agencies frequently.

    1. Hi Michael, that’s true. Many small business owners go into the process with unrealistic expectations.

  69. Small business should perhaps just consider handling the $500/mo directly to Google. Hell, they have the new resource center for SMB’s now.

    I haven’t even seen a $500/mo retainer in nearly a decade. I was really hoping as an industry, we realized efficiency and TLC isn’t going to be afforded at that rate.

    The last time I had an account under 1K/mo was probably December of 2011. When someone burst into my office on Christmas Eve demanding a website change or “I will report you to the BBB” is when I decided not only was I working myself to exhaustion, I didn’t like the book of business or the clients. At that time, I handed off my book of business and I packed my things and went to help a little-known-startup in SoFla. Now, they’ve sold to Petsmart in a record breakign ecomm deal. Anyone out there, doing great things @ $500/mo, keep going. It gets better 🙂

    1. Hi Brent, that’s true. The $500 is an average. But we found that many people are paying significantly more. No surprise: the folks that pay more get better results!

  70. Thanks Brian for sharing this article. You’ve SAVED my thousands of dollars that we have planned to spend on online advertising for scaling the agency for more leads. As per the stats you shared, there is very less contribution of online advertising

    Regarding SEO Services, In our experience the people who pay us more than $500 per month have more patience to wait for the results then the other ones with lower budget. Less the budget, lesser is the patience the clients have. Also, we have experienced one thing that the people who used to save money initially on the SEO services later pay a lot once their site hit by Google penalty due to low-quality work because of the lesser price.

    1. Navneet, you’re welcome. Yup, your experience confirms out data: that everyone is happier all around when they get above that $500/month threshold.

  71. Thank you Brian, this is great statistics for me as I’m running a digital marketing company. Now I can focus exactly where I can see more improvements in my company growth. This data and insight here will truly help me a lot. Thanks!

  72. Man! you just try to distorted the SEO services field.
    We are working on client SEO and they pay us more than $4k/months. If the clients see the post, then its directly impact our business. Because you directly said the USA business owner paid $500/m for SEO, why should they pay more!
    Better remove post.

    1. Ruro, that’s just the average. We also report that many people are paying significant more than $500/month.

    2. The report specifically mentions the clients that are paying more are getting better results. Re-read the article. It actual helps you with your $4k client.

  73. Hi Brian and thank you so much for you efforts in making this report. I am a newbie to SEO and trying my best to learn in order to offer services in my country Malaysia. This report gave me a new perspective on SEO for 2019.

    I have one question though, the clients who stayed with their provider are 2x more web savvy right? Is this due to the provider giving them education and providing resources or is there another factor at play?

    1. Hi Faez, you’re welcome. We didn’t ask them about that actually. But my guess it’s more that the clients were more web savvy when they first started working with their provider. Although you bring up a good point: providers can and should help their clients learn more about digital marketing. It can help them understand the value that agencies bring to the table.

  74. Hi Brian,
    Big fan of your blog. This article was really informative. I work with a lot of medium size ecommerce businesses and it’s good to see my agency is seeing a lot of the same trends as those involved in your survey. Many thanks on putting this together!

  75. Nice job, Brian and the Backlinko team!

    One question, though, about this quote: “that our company was found on many platforms and ads”

    What did you do to make sure that these 1200 businesses knew the difference between organic SEO and paid Google ads?

    Seems like at least a portion of these people may have been confused, which happens often in this industry.

    1. Hi Jeff, good question there. We didn’t really drill into those differences. Our screening really tried to focus on people that hired SEO (and not PPC) agencies. But like you said: many clients don’t fully understand that distinction so that’s something I want to really dig deeper on in the next version.

  76. One more thought:

    You stated that the findings state that people like knowing someone’s location.

    Maybe in the next one (2020?), I’d like to see how much it matters to people that the SEO services provider is in the client’s location or not.

    Right now, it’s just “knowing the location”, but doesn’t specify the importance of how much it matters if it’s the client’s same neighborhood, city, state, country, etc.

    1. Hi Jeff, I’d imagine that being in the same general area helps. But it’s something we’d have to look into for the 2020 version.

  77. If I’m reading the graph correctly only 2% of the people in this study spend 2k a month on SEO, and about 14% of the people in the study spend 500/mo or less and OVER 50% of the people in this study are spending 1k a year or ($83/mo)?

    So over 80% of the people surveyed are spending less than $500 a month, no wonder “overall SEO client satisfaction is decidedly low. Only 30% would recommend their current SEO provider to a friend or colleague”

    Any chance you will conduct another survey with Fortune 500 or bigger businesses (revs over a certain threshold)? Part of the survey did these small businesses have to share what their annual revenues were?

    Per “The U.S. Small Business Administration counts companies with as much as $35.5 million in sales and 1,500 employees as “small businesses”, depending on the industry. Outside government, companies with less than $7 million in sales and fewer than five hundred employees are widely considered small businesses.”

    With only 2% saying they spend 25k a year (2k/mo) for SEO it would be interesting to see what the average revenues are of these companies in the survey in comparison to their spend.

    Best point.. “We found a strong correlation between higher spending and higher client satisfaction. In fact, clients that spent over $500/month were 53.3% more likely to be “extremely satisfied” compared to those that spent less than $500/month.”

      1. Thanks for the reply. I see now the biggest portion of this study is by SMBs that (31%) make less than 250k in annual revenue. Looking at this rev data this makes a lot more sense now why they spend so little and satisfied. If they dedicated 10% of their revs to marketing that would only give them 25k a year on their whole marketing budget let alone SEO.

        This same survey with SMBs making 5-35 million annually would be interesting to compare and have even more insights. Any chance of that happening ;0)

  78. Any more insights on “78% of US-based small business owners consider their provider’s location a “very” or “extremely” important consideration.”

    For example, did they say they are more likely to go with a SEO service provider closer to their location or US vs offshore ect..?

    1. Hi Michael, unfortunately we didn’t ask that specific question. My assumption is that having a provider nearby is important (which is why they want to know the location in the first place). But that’s not something we specifically asked the panel.

  79. Thanks for this article. I was actually thinking of offering SEO services however, I am so impatient myself where I can’t imagine offering the same results for clients. Especially that SEO is taking longer every day!

  80. Wow! Nice Article Brian
    Your survey is great and will help many agencies and freelancers to understand the clients need.
    I’ve just started my own startup in India. Let’s see what happens in the future.

  81. I’ve been just rereading your article to let it sink in…and thank you. Going through the comments I’ve noticed you reply to everyone and I suppose that really some’s it up communicating with your clients using the various formats.

  82. Hi Brian,
    We wanted to show our appreciation for all the help that we have received after reading your blogs. We realize that success with SEO’s doesn’t happen over night, it takes time and patience. The new blog helps us focus on the areas we are lacking as a travel company in Nepal and we would love to read more blogs like this in the near future. Excellent job!

  83. Hi Brian,
    your doing remarkable tangible work! Its always refreshing, insightfull and actionable.

    I work as a Online Marketing Freelancer for one year now and i always have the feeling that people that search for an SEO freelancer are more into:
    – Saving money compared to an agency
    – Getting fast results with SEO
    – SEO is some sort of specific discipline. Its not, its more or less Inbound Online Marketing in general unless your talking about technical stuff for huge websites. They tend to think SEO can be done outside of there office and it needs no input from them. They tend to think more about rankings then all the other stuff you do with SEO (reputation and stuff).
    – Skip all the “talk stuff” (analytics, defining target group etc.) or want to have it completely for free

    For this reason i dont like describe myself as an SEO because for a lot of clients its totally missleading and in the end they are not happy with the results because nobody told them that most of the time: if they just pay 500$/month they have to do a lot of work inhouse (therefore they need often a lot of training).

    For me your statistics outline 2 thoughts id had recently (directly or indirectly):
    1. As a freelancer for SEO be either an total expert on specific part (like outreach, technical stuff or image search optimization for example) or be a more general agency get more money from people who are more relaxed about it. Otherwise its hard for positioning yourself i guess.
    2. The people who want to pay less then 500$ …
    Case one: They cant spend more -> they should use a automated tool with suggestions and do mostly there stuff on there own and should invest in doing workshops. They even could pay in one time only optimizations like getting a responsive website, new prof. photos for the website etc. If you consult these clients -> Concentrate on monitoring there actions instead of doing stuff by yourself. For most of the time you wont do yourself a favor if you try to manager all their online stuff at a 500$/month basis when your at a starting point with online marketing (later on it cant be good for 500$/month if you just serve like a specific channel that works good for the company. This leads me to point nr. 1)
    Case two: They could spend more time/money if they are educated in the right way -> In the SEO community we are not doing ourselfs a favor by posting articles like “How to rank #1” or “How i got 100k visitors on my blog in 1 month”. We create our own – not business serving bubble – here because for nearly no one its about #1 in the long run – its about longterm business success. We just serve/feed one of the biggest lies of our century: fame/traffic/reach means or leads to business success.

    Your research has shown me that i will probably get the best results for small/mid-sized local clients with a solid income by:
    – either build a small agency with like 3-5 people (Strategist & Performance Marketer, Webdesigner & Webmaster, Writer/Content Editor & Social Media Manager) with a focus on one specific industry (like dentists, lawyers, bigger restaurants etc.)
    – or really focus on one topic as a freelancer (like Google my Business profile creation/optimization because its often a quick win and most of the clients see and “feel” fast results)

    Greetings from Berlin,
    David

    1. Hi David, first off, thanks for the excellent comment. Very insightful.

      To address your two main points.

      1. Agreed. When I work with freelancers I prefer to work with those that specialize in something vs. a “marketing expert”.

      2. $500 doesn’t get you much for sure. It does, however, depend on the business. For example, a local dentist may get some value from $500 in servies.

  84. Hi Brian, was all the survey respondents all from the United States? Any of that data you gathered from the UK? What is also food for thought, the majority of respondents avg spend was $1k per year, in my mind that would be for an SEO tool such as Moz which the respondents could mistake as a service.

    1. Hi Chris, yes 100% of our panel was made up of small businesses in the US. It’s funny you mention that because some people in our initial run of respondents cited SEO software (like GoDaddy’s SEO tool) as a service. So we made sure to go back and re-run those questions to make 100% certain that they were referring to services and not tools.

      1. Wow, that is very little in terms of investment then. For small businesses to even work with agencies offering SEO services at such a low price point, the SEO agency must have a high sign-up rate to break even. Makes you think about the quality of the services too. Scary thoughts indeed,

  85. Did you also investigate the SEO spend per month in relation to the revenue of the business? As I can see, you define “small business” as companies with <$250K revenue till $5mio+ revenue (up to..?), which is a big difference. I'm assuming that you wouldn't spend $1000+/month when you've got a business with <250K/month. But with a revenue of $1mio+, it's much easier to spend $1K+/month. Just wondering if you've also investigated that.

    1. Hi Jarik, we didn’t look at that correlation. But you’re right: “small business” is defined in this study (and by most other stats) somewhat broadly. So I’d guess that the bigger small businesses spent more, but we didn’t look specifically at that.

      1. Yeh I’d be interested knowing what sort of businesses were in the survey (eg service, local, brick and mortar, etc.) and their typical revenue for a future article as well.

        I would be willing to bet the businesses spending $500+/mo were already doing better financially than the others. The more revenue a company makes, the less you’re spending percentage-wise as compared to revenue so it makes it “easier” to spend more.

        I also wonder if the companies who needed leads yesterday / are in growth mode are more likely to consider an SEO agency as well…. though the data does mention 2 years as an average engagement so at least the clients in the survey were patient enough to at least give SEO somewhat of a fair shake…

        Great report Brian!

  86. Great survey. And I am sure that it’ll help to SEO agencies to understand client’s query for better result oriented performance.
    Overall, I think small business owners still need education and awareness about the value of SEO. They lack the power of digital marketing. So, All SEO provider must conduct a presentation to small business owners so they can get more business opportunities.

  87. Hi Brian,

    Thanks for sharing your incredible work.

    It is crazy to read how many clients lack better reporting. Communication is definitely a keyword and should be prioritized more by SEO providers. It would be interesting to know more about what better communication could make of difference. Also in relation to the expectations of the SEO work.

    I’m already looking forward to reading your next blog post.

    1. Hi Nanna, you’re welcome. Exactly: it looks like besides results, clients also really value communication and reporting from their SEO providers.

  88. I’m glad to get extra validation that client education efforts are worth the effort. A few hours worth of training can get SEO providers days or even weeks back in productivity – plus it actually seems to improve client retention.

  89. Probably my favorite part of this piece is exposing a bit about what people are paying. We recently started working with an SEO person (along with content) and one of the tricky parts as a business owner is you feel like you’re getting screwed 🙂 There’s very little information about what is an appropriate amount to pay for such services and a very wide span of prices quoted.

    1. Happy to help, Ian. My #1 goal was actually to add some more transparency for the industry as a whole.

  90. Interesting survey. Would be nice if the demographics were right in the top of the survey, that way I have some context around who has answered the questions, as opposed to finding out at the very bottom of the page that that info (after clicking another link and opening another tab).

    It would be greatly beneficial to have the percentages in the bar graphs. Some have it, most don’t. Don’t understand why it would be left off.

  91. I have another side of this story.
    Not only a budget is the fault – maturity of business is another side …

    Sometimes a new business owner has read some inspiring stories, the company with XXX budget got X XXX clients/followers.

    Most of the time with a small budget comes and big problems. No one writes content (sometimes it’s stollen from competitors), no one doing outreach and business developing … they just waiting for the magic.

    When you ask about product-market fit … do someone needs this service or product, they are blindly in love with their business idea. And it’s nothing wrong. Everyone needs to grow and learn.

    There’s another side of the coin. Most SEO professionals are so in love with SEO, so they forget about the language that people use. There is a problem with communication. If you cannot explain your process to 12 years person … nobody will understand outside SEO world.

    If you reading this. Remember simple true. When you are the first SEO company/specialist/consultant for a client … is like having the first date and the “happy ending” is something new for your client. :))

  92. every client wants results in days and even the budget is too low, you know that whitehat SEO takes time to make some progress.
    I do not prefer spammy links or blackhat ways to show results. This report is quite interesting. Thank Brian for sharing this with us.

  93. My main focus from now on will be to report in more details what my customers is getting from the partnership.
    And taking another step to actually call them and ask them if they have any questions.

    Thanks for yet another data studio article 🙏🏻

  94. This was an amazing statistics! I am currently developing my customer journey map, so this was very useful to know, especially about that SEO providers are chosen through referrals and that case studies are not a big factor when choosing an SEO provider. Thank you, Brian!

  95. Hey Brian, as usual it is worth the while reading your articles. Spending less is definitely now the way to be more successful. The SEO market is a pit with lots of highs and lows. Could it be that people pay more for SEO because they are satisfied? Or was it the other way?

    1. Thanks Steven. My take is that they’re paying more to begin with… and therefore linking up with providers that are doing great work.

  96. Thank you Brian! Another wonderful piece of content. I wish there was a way to find out what percentage of businesses have considered, but never used SEO services.

  97. The results of survey data of sanctification based on a spend of more or less than 500 is likely not accurate. Smaller budget customers expectations are most often over valued and the result of less satisfaction when compared to a group that can spend more on the project where the understanding is likely more realistic and the sensitivity is a lot less. Two small clients do not equal a larger client.

  98. My take away from this is that if you want long term SEO clients then its best to try educating them first about SEO.

    Then perhaps pitch them on a campaign.

    Our more tech savvy clients generally do stick around longer.

  99. lol: “the SEO services industry as a whole has an NPS score of 0”

    plenty of opportunities for aspiring / upcoming agencies & service providers to disrupt status quo here!

    1. Yup! The funny part is that all you really need to do is a) deliver results and b) communicate with clients. Boom! Instant A+ agency.

  100. I am selling SEO services To B2B clients In India and this report had helped me a lot. Know i can understand the need of customers more than before and will work on creating tactics which will get them more unique and new customers to their website.

    Thanks Brian …

  101. Awesome info! Really surprised how big of an impact an SEO provider’s location has on whether or not a client chooses to work with them. That’s not something I’ve ever really considered. The data surrounding a client’s web savviness is also really intriguing. That makes me think we need to place more importance on educating our clients on the work that we do for them – more education and less reporting.
    great post by a great person.

  102. This post is really awesome, so much of insight details that an agency can use it to make their business grow like rocket. I’m surprised to see that advertising is having relatively low number of success ratio when it comes to find new clients.

  103. I think we need to place more importance on educating our clients on the work that we do for them – more education and less reporting.
    great post dude… Thanks

  104. Brian,

    Thank you for the comprehensive research and easy to read article. It’s not surprising to see the research find greater dissatisfaction among those with a budget under $500 per month. For the most part, with some exceptions, less than $500 per month is simply not sufficient to achieve the desired results against competitors that can spend much more.

  105. Brian,

    It was good to learn about SEO costing and how much people spend on these services. I had been looking for such information for a long time and finally, I stumbled upon this post. It is great to research work. Thank you.

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